Review by Chuck Arrington | posted March 16, 2001
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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Graphical Version


The word "Amistad" or more correctly, "La Amistad" means friendship. The entire storyline of the film however is based in the furthest thing from that filial relationship. During the early part of this country's history, America traded in human currency. Men, women and children were stolen, raped and beaten and murdered. Families among these innocents were shattered as sons were ripped from their mother's breast and daughters from their father's arms. To date, there has never been any public recognition that this practice was wrong. Such was the life of a slave. Amistad takes place upon a slaveship of the same name. Spanish traders are ferrying their cargo back to the Spanish Main when, The slaves revolt and take control of the ship killing all but two men, the captain and first mate. Unable to pilot the ship, they rely on the captain to take them back to Sierra Leone. Using the moon and sun as ruses to confuse the Africans into thinking they are returning home, the Spaniards pilot the ship in the direction of the Americas. Once there, a legal battle ensues. At the heart of this war is a definition if you will. The Spaniards and their American counterparts define the slaves as "property" or chattel without any more rights than a chair or a pig. The American abolitionists movement seeks to identify the Africans as men ripped from their country and in need of speedy return to their homeland. Additionally, they want them seen as human beings, not objects or things. Given the diametrically opposed forces present, a heated legal confrontation is staged that culminates at the Supreme Court. Amistad is an affair of the heart that tugs at the very fabric of what makes us human and it's not a film to be missed.


DreamWorks pictures has a history of putting out first-rate discs and Amistad is one such disc. There are two audio versions currently available. One is a DTS enabled disc and the other DD. For the review I viewed the DD version and all the subsequent information pertains to that disc.

The Audio for Amistad is quite amazing actually. The opening of the film is extremely aurally active and puts the HT through it's paces. The fronts/Center and rears are all active and provide really great depth of field and an aural experience that adds another level of realism to an incredibly moving story. The dialogue is clear and the center does a very clean job in presenting all of the film's dialogue. Dialogue driven, the remaining surround elements come from John Williams' masterful score. As it's employed, the rich textured strains of the films musical character are rendered in an extremely pleasing way.

The video for the film is presented in a crystal clear widescreen anamorphically enhanced transfer that's without any hint of error or chroma noise. This has got to be one of the finest prints I have seen. The colors were rich and well defined. The fleshtones were accurate and natural. I have nothing at all negative to say about the print of this film. This is a mainstay of DreamWorks and makes reviewing their films a joy.


The extras on the film are a behind the scenes featurette hosted by Debbie Allen that features interviews with the cast as well as words from the Director as well. The trailer and cast and filmmaker bios round out the special features for Amistad


When it comes to American History, things tend to be one sided. We hear about George Washington and Thomas Jefferson but we never hear about Benjamin Banneker or Dred Scott. Amistad paints a picture of the ugliness of our collective past. Imagine if you will, men women and children shackled together one on top of the other. If you got sick or had to relieve your bladder or empty your bowels, no one took you to a restroom or helped you in any way. All your bodily functions poured out on the people above and beneath you. There was value in this living commodity so, certain care was taken in ensuring that most of this cargo made it to its destination alive. For those who appeared to be peakid in pallor or for those who lingered at death's door longing for the freedom of it's embrace, no special care was taken to meet their medical needs. Chained one to the other, men, women and children were weighted down and cast into a sea teeming with ravenous sharks. Heaven help you if you were an attractive young woman in the bowels of one of these ships. The unthinkable was already real and all everything could do was get worse. This was life onboard a slaveship. Murder, rape, torture, you name it, it was done. Amistad succinctly paints a picture that is at times hard to look at but necessary to experience. This is easily one of the best, if not THE best dramatization of the life Africans had at the hands of both Africans and all others during this time period. I saw this theatrically on it's opening weekend and was floored by the level of intensity the film employs in telling it's story. Much like Schindler's List, Amistad is a story of an oppressed people whose redemption was long in coming. The scars received from both the Holocaust and Slavery, are still very real and very painful even to this day. Steven Spielberg is not your average director. His films are pivotal, intelligent and in the case of Amistad and Schindler's List brutal, painful and finally cathartic. If you haven't seen Amistad, you owe it to yourself to see this incredible film. If you have seen it, see it again. Highly Recommended

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